best-chinese-translator

The Complete Guide to the Best Chinese Translators in 2023

While it might be an exaggeration to say that Chinese is the absolute hardest written language out there, it’s definitely in the running and it’s pretty difficult to master.

Chinese may be a challenge, but it’s not one that modern-day learners of Chinese can’t handle.

We have something at our disposal which makes Chinese reading a whole lot easier: translation programs.

Here are the 12 best Chinese translators in 2023.

Contents

 

1. Best Online Translator: Google Translate

best chinese translation app

Available: iOS | Android

While it does have a reputation for producing humorous errors, Google Translate is still probably the best translator out there. You can use it for Simplified or Traditional Chinese characters.

Google Translate can rapidly translate huge chunks of texts, and can even translate entire websites through a Chrome plugin. The resulting text, while far from perfect, is still generally comprehensible with a good understanding of the grammatical semantics of both Chinese and English.

This online application is constantly improving via user feedback and a process called machine learning. Competitors like the Bing Translator use an identical approach, but Google has more users and, thus, its software can learn and improve faster.

Google Translate is also available as an app. The apps have some additional features that aren’t available on the web, like the ability to translate images of text or input Chinese characters via handwriting.

2. Best Document Translator: Yandex

best-chinese-translator-yandex

Available: iOS | Android

Yandex, a popular online translator, can translate Simplified characters from Chinese to English, or from English to Simplified Chinese.

The app includes audio to accompany translations, which can be particularly useful for language learners. The text input feature uses autocorrect, in case you’re struggling with characters.

Noteably, Yandex has a 10,000 character limit, meaning that you can translate pretty big texts, including entire documents or websites. Besides text input, Yandex can also translate text from images, and it supports audio input.

Yandex does seem to rely on Google and Bing for translations. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing since it combines the two powerhouses into one convenient package, it does mean that you may get a similar translation from Yandex as from Google Translate.

3. Best Menu Translator: Waygo

best chinese translation app

Available: iOS

Waygo was developed specially for reading menus. If you’re going to China, Japan or Korea, Waygo will help make sure you always know what you’re eating.

It can translate Simplified or Traditional Chinese text into readable English in real-time. Point your camera at a clearly printed menu and watch as it deciphers your next meal.

Waygo does not need an internet connection as almost all of the app’s core functionality can be used offline, making it especially useful for translation in regions with poor internet connectivity.

The free version of the app limits you to 10 translations a day. You can pay a few bucks for one week of usage or for full access to any individual language. $11.99 gets you full access to all available languages.

4. Best Phrase Translator: Bravolol

best-chinese-translator-bravolol

Available: iOS | Android

Bravolol’s Dictionary & Translator app can translate text between multiple languages, including English and Chinese. Along with the written form, the app also provides pronunciation of common phrases, helpful for those who travel a lot.

Along with the translation feature, you can use Bravolol as a dictionary and look up individual words. Dictionary entries come complete with audio pronunciation, example sentences and related words. You can bookmark words to review later.

You can also use the “Chinese Analyzer” to break down Chinese phrases one word at a time. Then, you can use the app’s flashcards to study any words or phrases you want.

Bravolol also offers language learning apps for anyone who wants more direct learning and practice. Best of all, you don’t need an internet connection to use the apps.

5. Best Character Translator: Purple Culture

best chinese translation app

Available: web only

Purple Culture is a site that gives you instant character recognition and translation.

Rather than using your smartphone to take a picture, however, Purple Culture supports typing and handwritten character input on the web for Chinese to English translation.

Simply input the Chinese character you want translated, click the “Look up in dictionary” button and get a dictionary entry for that character. Dictionary entries are detailed with information about strokes and radicals, pinyin and example words and sentences.

For Pro Purple Culture account holders, users can listen to and download audio for the characters they translate. A Pro account can be purchased for $3 a month or $30 for a year.

6. Best Word Translator: Pleco

best chinese translation app

Available: iOS | Android

As you progress through learning Chinese, you probably won’t need to translate whole paragraphs or sentences any more, but tricky words and characters. Enter Pleco.

A favorite among Chinese learners, Pleco is packed with useful character translation features. Look up characters via stroke order, pinyin, zhuyin, touchpad drawing or your device’s camera.

Pleco supports both Simplified and Traditional Chinese characters. The dictionary entries contain a ton of information, including parts of speech, related words, example sentences and information about each character’s radical and components.

The app is free and contains zero ads. For some fees, you can access additional features that are just as high quality as the rest of the app.

7. Best Single-Character Translator: MDBG Chinese

best-chinese-translators-mdbg

Available: web only

To figure out an unknown Chinese character, simply copy and paste it into MDBG Chinese for an instant translation into English.

Unable to copy and paste? Alternatively, learners can write the Chinese character by hand. Keep in mind that proper stroke order is required, which may pose a problem to beginner Chinese learners.

Input and results are available in Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, pinyin and English. Click on the three vertical dots next to the definition for more information, including example sentences in Chinese and audio recordings.

8. Best Picture Translator: Papago

best chinese translation app

Available: iOS | Android

Papago was developed by the popular Korean navigation company, Naver. It’s currently available as an app, and can also be used on the web.

Use basic text translation on the desktop version, or download the Papago app to make use of its photo and handwriting translation tools as well. Point your camera at text or write in the words and get an instant translation.

Papago can translate to and from English, Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese, as well as 12 other languages.

Best of all, Papago doesn’t need an internet connection. With its offline mode, you can take it with you anywhere you go!

9. Best Voice Translator: iTranslate

best chinese translation app

Available: iOS | Android

iTranslate gives the impression of being the translator cousin of Siri, Apple’s voice assistant.

The app supports translations to and from more than 100 languages, including Chinese. It even differentiates between the Mandarin used in China and the Mandarin used in Taiwan.

iTranslate can process text, image and voice translation, and truly excels at the latter. Simply press the microphone button, speak and get an instant translation.

In fact, iTranslate even offers the Converse app for voice-only usage, which supports verbal translations to and from 38 languages, including both of the previously mentioned forms of Mandarin Chinese.

By speaking into the microphone, iTranslate’s Converse app can detect the language being used and automatically transcribe and translate it into English.

10. Best Chinese to English Translator: Baidu Translate

best chinese translation app

Available: iOS

Baidu Translate does not support English to Chinese voice translation, but it excels at Chinese to English, because that’s what it was designed for.

To get a translation, users simply speak Chinese into the app. The Chinese will be transcribed into the appropriate characters and then translated into English. Because the translation happens in written form, there is no audio available.

Aside from voice translation, Baidu Translate has a phrasebook for common Chinese phrases and their English meanings. And, for multilingual users, the app also supports translation from Chinese into Korean or Japanese.

11. Best Real-time Voice Translator: Skype Translator

Available: iOS | Android

With other voice translation apps, you have to pause while the translator works, read the text or listen to the audio and only then proceed with your conversation.

Not so with Skype Translator. 

A project currently being developed by Microsoft, Skype Translator uses advanced technology to allow for Skype video calls to be immediately translated from one language to another. A Chinese speaker’s words will be actively translated into English via cloud software, and vice versa.

Real-time voice translation is still a very new field. There are few applications out there that can offer actual, useful functionality, which makes Skype Translator stand out among them.

12. Best Customizable Translator: SayHi Translate

chinese translator

Available: iOS | Android

Another frontrunner in real-time voice translation is SayHi Translate.

The app’s primary focus is to enable users to have a conversation via multiple languages. While this feature is not yet available for Chinese, SayHi Translate does support Chinese speech recognition and text-to-voice functionality.

You can speed up or slow down the audio, as well as select the gender of the speaker. The audio capabilities make it easier for you to understand the spoken Chinese, replicate the sounds and hear how different speakers may sound.

SayHi Translate is easy on the eyes. It’s designed to be simple so you don’t have unnecessary visual clutter slowing you down. Plus, the app’s text translations can be shared via email, text, Facebook and Twitter for easy interaction.

Tips for Using the Best Chinese Translators

1. Use translators in different ways at different skill levels

The most important thing to remember when using translation apps is that you should only use translation as a supplement to learning Chinese, rather than a replacement for actual study.

When you’re a beginner, it’s okay to make heavy use of translation apps. However, you shouldn’t use the translation as a crutch, or think that you’ve learned a word simply by looking it up—sometimes that new word will stick in your brain, and sometimes it won’t.

As your Chinese ability increases, you should endeavor to slowly reduce your reliance on translation apps. Try to understand new words by context, as these analytical skills are exactly what you need to exercise to move up in fluency.

In fact, that’s why so many language programs have adopted this contextual teaching approach. For example, FluentU pairs interactive subtitles with native media clips to create immersive Mandarin lessons, to help you move away from translator apps.

Eventually, by the time you’ve reached an advanced Chinese level, you should only be using translators to look up the odd unknown character.

2. Always check for mistakes—there will be errors!

While translators have come a long way in recent years, they’re still far from perfect. This means that there will almost always be errors in the translations produced by these apps, and these errors become more numerous when you have more characters to input.

As a result, it’s important for learners to never trust the raw translated output 100%, and always apply their own (even limited) knowledge of Chinese to identify these errors.

3. No translator can replace a good teacher

A final thing to keep in mind when using translators is that while they are indeed very useful, they can in no way replace formal Chinese study and a good teacher.

While they can teach direct word-to-word translations, they miss out on much of the requisite grammar governing how a word can be used and in what context.

Additionally, given that Chinese has a large number of synonyms, it’s very important to sit down and actually learn the precise way of using a given word, rather than just its equivalent meaning in English.

 

All in all, translators come in many forms and are valuable companions for the eager Chinese learner.

That said, like many other good things, Chinese translators should be used in moderation.

Choose wisely, and use responsibly!

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